Some Sharks Like Having Company More Than Others

Written by on October 13, 2014 in Marine Life, Sharks

New research shows for the first time that individual sharks have unique social personalities, which influence how they interact with each other in the wild.

Small spotted catshark. Photo credit Hans Hillewaert, CC BY-SA 4.0.

Small spotted catshark. Photo credit Hans Hillewaert, CC BY-SA 4.0.

Many animals are known to have personalities, but they are usually defined as individual characteristics, such as willingness to explore, boldness, or aggressiveness.

“We define personality as a repeatable behavior across time and contexts,” Professor Darren Croft of the Centre for Research in Animal Behavior in Psychology at the University of Exeter explained in a news release. “What is interesting is that these behaviors differ consistently among individuals. This study shows, for the first time, that individual sharks possess social personalities.”

A research team from the Marine Biological Association of the UK (MBA) and the University of Exeter tested for social personality by recording the social interactions of groups of juvenile small spotted catsharks (Scyliorhinus canicula) in captivity.

Small spotted catsharks are often found in groups, resting on the seafloor around and on top of one another. Researchers recorded their interactions in three different habitat types, which differed in their structural complexity.

“We found that even though the sizes of the groups forming changed, socially well-connected individuals remained well-connected under each new habitat,” Dr. David Jacoby, a behavioral ecologist now at the Institute of Zoology, London said. “In other words, their social network positions were repeated through time and across different habitats,”

“These results were driven by different social preferences (i.e social/antisocial individuals) that appeared to reflect different strategies for staying safe. Well-connected individuals formed conspicuous groups, while less social individuals tended to camouflage alone, matching their skin color with the color of the gravel substrate in the bottom of the tank.”

Additional research will be required to determine just how much predators influence social personality traits in sharks, Professor Croft noted.

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Copyright © 2014 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .


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